Joan Woodward

British sociologist (1916–1971)

Joan Woodward (September 27, 1916 – 1971) was a British sociologist, and professor in organization sociology at the Imperial College London, known for the publication of the 1965 book Industrial Organization: Theory and practice.


  • Production systems which are technologically the most advanced are also the least adaptable and work to the longest time scale of decision making. These are the process industries (chemical plants, oil refineries and so on) in which vast resources are invested in the creation of a closely programmed and tightly controlled process which will continue to perform the same task over a very long period.
    • Joan Woodward (1965, 1970), as cited in: Romiszowski, A. J. (2016). Designing Instructional Systems: Decision Making in Course Planning ..., p. 13

Management and technology, Problems of Progress Industry, 1958


Joan Woodward, Management and technology, Problems of Progress Industry, Series no. 3. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1958.

  • The number of levels of authority in the management hierarchy increased with technical complexity, while the span of control of the first-line supervisor decreased.
    • p. 16
  • A breakdown of management into its basic functions — development, production and marketing — revealed that the character of the functions, their chronological sequence, the closeness with which they had to be integrated and their relative importance to the success and survival of the business, all depended upon the system of techniques in the firm concerned.
    • p. 21-22
  • Those responsible for marketing had to sell, not a product, but the idea that their firm was able to produce what the customer required. The product was developed after the order had been secured, the design being, in many cases, modified to suit the requirements of the customer. In mass production firms, the sequence is quite different: product development came first, then production, and finally marketing.
    • p. 23
  • As technology advances the entire concept of authority in industry may have to change. In process firms the relationships between superior and subordinate was much more like that between a travel agent and his clients than that between a foreman and operators in mass production. The process foreman's job was to arrange things within limits, set by the plant, which both he and the operators accepted.
    • p. 30

Industrial Organization: Theory and practice, 1965


Joan Woodward. Industrial organization; theory and practice. 1965; 1980

  • In some firms role relationships prescribed by the chart seemed to be of secondary importance to personal relationships between individuals.
    • p. 24
  • There was a particular form of organisation most appropriate to each technical situation.
    • p. 72

Quotes about Joan Woodward

  • Organizational theorists, at least since the pioneering work of Burns and Stalker, 1961 and Joan Woodward, 1965 and others in what came to be called the contingency school, have recognized that centralization is appropriate for organizations with routine tasks, and decentralization for those with nonroutine tasks. For an early statement see Perrow 1967, and Lawrence and Lorch, 1967.
    • Charles Perrow (1984), Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. p. 334
  • For Woodward, the main research question is the following: How and why do industrial organizations vary in structure and why do some structures appear to be associated with greater success for the organizations than others?... In order to analyze this question, Woodward needs to establish a model according to which the companies participating in her study can be categorized. She starts by observing that several people working within this field (incl. Taylor) come from a manufacturing industry background, and that they tend to generalize on this basis. Referring to Dubin (1959) she analyzes different dimensions that can be part of a model used to categorize different companies:
  • Tools, instruments, machines and technical formulas versus the body of ideas and the methods employed (a sub-division of her definition of ‘technology’)
  • Different phases in ‘a natural history of industry’
  • One-of-a-kind production to meet customers’ individual requirements versus standardized production
  • Continuous production versus production in more or less frequent intervals (a sub-division of standardized production)
  • Diversity of products versus relatively little flexibility in the production facilities
  • The making of integral products (‘The Manufacturing Industry’) versus the making of dimensional products measured by weight, capacity or volume (‘The Process Industry’)
  • Jobbing versus batch versus mass production
  • The production of parts versus the production of products (parts can more easily be standardized)
She concludes by establishing the... eleven categories
  • Trond Bølviken, "On the categorization of production: The organization–product matrix." Proceedings of the 20th annual conference of the International Group for Lean Construction (IGLC20), San Diego, CA, July. 2000.
  • As open systems, organizations faced an environment that might be placid and benevolent, or turbulent and harsh. Economic, social, political, and technological changes could come rapidly or slowly, and some organizational arrangements might be better able to cope with the changing environment than others. Could it be that there was no one way to structure an organization that design was influenced by environmental factors and could vary, depending on technology?
Joan Woodward (1916–1971) took this contingency view, classified organizations by the complexity of the technology used in producing goods, and found that it influenced an organization’s structure. Her classification, ranging from less complex (1) to more advanced (3), consisted of (1) unit and small-batch production systems that produced made-to-order and customized products to meet consumers’ needs; (2) large-batch and mass production, which involved a fairly standardized or uniform product with but few variations in its final appearance; and (3) long-run continuous-process production, which involved a standard product manufactured by moving through a predictable series of steps.
  • The ‘fit’ between organisation and technology has long been a theme of interest for academics. A key piece of work in this vein is Joan Woodward’s 1958 report which links the manufacturing set up an organisation operates with not only the structure the organisation adopts but also the way people within the organisation communicate and work together. This work gives a relationship between the organisational world and the technology it deals with, it moves beyond the simple assumption of technological determinism often used in economics that Langlois (2002)refers to, by providing a mechanism.
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